The Art of Active Listening

The Art of Active Listening
As part of our recent Associates Away Day delivered by Katherine Brown – Founding Director of Beauty and Utility Arts (a Leicestershire based social enterprise working with older people. …… you can read all the good work we do here…) we were given a presentation on Active Listening by Rob Hunter Chair of Leicester Ageing Together.

I found it incredibly valuable both professionally and on a personal level and really wanted to share this experience.

Rob began by saying that all of us need to be heard and really listened to, going on to explain what makes a good listener & a bad one and how we can all be better listeners.

A good listener
• Focuses on the person speaking
• Acknowledges and affirms
• Allows for silence & thinking time
• Really listens to what is actually being said
• Doesn’t offer advice
• Asks open questions
• Doesn’t judge
• Uses good body language and good eye contact
• Listens more than talks
• Uses empathy

A bad listener
• Appears distracted
• Interrupts
• Is task orientated
• Asks closed questions

He also explained the differences between men and women in regard to their listening – Women just want to be heard and don’t necessarily want their problem solved whereas Men just want to solve the problem. Made so much sense to me!

In pairs we undertook a role play where one of us had to listen & not speak whilst the other discussed a problem they were having issues with. I listened to my colleague and smiled and nodded – it was very hard not to interject with a “oh that happened to me….or I know …” but the more my colleague spoke the more I listened and she was able to – in her own way resolve the issue she was working through. I wonder if had I interjected – would she have come up with the solution herself?

Heres a useful link I came across on Mindful Listening... that you might find interesting.

As a writer I find people’s stories and what they have to say so thought-provoking, so taking on board my active listening guidance I’ve listened and learnt a lot more when delivering my writing for wellbeing sessions. For example… a woman in a recent workshop spoke of her dreams of buying a static caravan, another participant spoke of flying to Costa Rica for the holiday of a lifetime, another talked of returning from years in Spain, and another of their time as a gardener – naming all the flowers he loved…. By listening more I was given momentary glimpses into these people’s lives. I find it so interesting what people share, when they are allowed to speak and be heard.
So listen more – you never know what you might hear.

Mindful Moments

There is always so much to do isn’t there? It often gets overwhelming. We (when I say we I mean me!) rush around trying to get everything done and finished, so we can cross it off our lists and start the next thing…finishing one task and another three fall into its place. It can all get a bit much. It’s overwhelming and my internal chatter is continuous and my mind is full.

I am a keen advocate for mindfulness and its many benefits. I deliver writing for mindfulness and relaxation workshops and encourage others to incorporate mindfulness into their everyday lives. I know the benefits of writing, to alleviate the constant racing thoughts and mind chatter and finding calm but we don’t always have time to sit and write when everything is in a constant whirlwind. I know I always feel better having written a few pages of thoughts first thing in a morning but today I wasn’t able to. I rushed headlong into the day and today mindfulness found me.
After the school run I was rushing around the kitchen, trying to put away shopping, make soup, fill the dishwasher, wipe the cooker, fill the dishwasher, sort the washing and drying…you know how it is, trying to do everything, not finishing anything, not knowing where to begin and generally getting into a bit of a mess.

So I stopped and thought how I can make this all a bit more bearable, and decided to listen to the radio. I tapped the BBC Radio App on my phone and thought I’d combine two things… chores and my children’s book research. I began to type in the word Iceland (my children’s story has nordic themes and is set in world of gnomes and trolls) the first thing that came up was Ice Mountain and I tapped to listen thinking it was a children’s story. It wasn’t…it was a documentary about Icebergs. I couldn’t quite concentrate on the programme whilst clattering around doing chores so I stopped what I was doing, closed my eyes, leant on the kitchen counter and listened. For the 28 minutes of the programme I lost myself in the words, the voices, and the tones, and unusual names, sounds of waves crashing and creaks of icebergs.
It was not something I would usually pick to listen to, but when it finished I was refreshed and renewed – felt like I was awake after a short sleep. Everything had slowed down for me and the mind chatter was quiet. I was able to finish my chores having had a moment of mindfulness and breathing space. My mind a bit clearer, I came up with an idea for a blog series – thoughts about finding mindful moments. My ideas for themes include listening and sounds, experiences, writing, slowing down and the outdoors and nature. I thought this blog would help me to incorporate more mindfulness into my everyday life and be useful for others wanting to embrace mindfulness. I do hope you’ll join me. Have a lovely restful weekend and don’t forget to take a mindful moment for yourself.

Making a Connection

These notes were written a while ago whilst on a train to london….
My hands are cold. It is difficult to write. My hand feels clumsy, numb and over large. It is late November and I am on a train to London. I use the squeaky plastic fold away tray as my desk for the next hour as the train lumbers along jostling me from side to side.

I was very nervous and anxious at the train station so my first instinct was to write. To write it all down and make the worry dissolve as it usually does when I sit down to write. I was waiting at the station, my stomach not on my side today – doing something strange (strange for me) it felt like it was a pancake being flipped over, flung from side to side then shaken. Horrid nerves. Anxiety. What is this feeling? Why is boarding a train so scary for me? People do it every day – I’ve done it weekly for a time, it was my routine – it was nothing. I wasn’t fazed it was just how I got to work. So why is it different today? Is this the panic of finding my seat on the train in the right coach, will I have to move someone sat down and already settled in. It is such a scramble. How do people do this every day? The heart pounding leap to find the door, and set foot onto the carriage as the whistle blows.

I am on the train, my feet are also cold and my nose is streaming. I feel like my body lets me down as soon as I do something out of my comfort zone. Why is that? It is a normal nerve reaction? A normal response? It’s not fight or flight is it? Flight – my body telling me not to do something, warning me perhaps? Does everyone feel like this when they are travelling? Or is it just me? Is it a symptom of getting older? Getting more anxious about everyday things? I never worry about getting the bus as it’s something I do regularly – so why now boarding a train?

I’m wondering now if I have always been like this. My family have always said I was a good traveller – I was. Perhaps it’s because I’m alone – I’m rarely alone these days with a husband and little one in tow. I’ve been relishing this time to be alone – so why the anxiety? I wanted a weekend of peace and quiet and now I don’t feel so good.

I was stood on the platform looking all around me, for a friendly face or kindred spirit, a nod of encouragement or a small smile – just something to let me know that I’m not alone and “hey its ok, we all do this journey all the time” Then there she was – a friend and fellow school Mum in a bright red coat and twinkling eyes peering at me as if to say “is that you?” A connection – a brief murmur of small talk and I instantly was lifted. The train arrived and still but rather less flustered I found my seat and said out loud “found it” the lady in the seat next to me nods in acknowledgment and continues to tap away at her lap top.

I settle down and begin to write, my mind wanders – do we as humans need connections to feel safe? The woman next to me is pleasant but quietly reassuring “it’s only an hour and we make good time” I feel safe. My friend is on the same train and I feel safe. I note that that morning when buying coffee I was extra chatty to staff, saying hello with an extra smile, just wanting to make a connection. As I’m never usually alone in public (I work from home alone and am quite content all the time) I don’t have time to chat, I’m with my daughter and we rush from one shop to the next, tending to my daughter’s needs. So being alone in public I have the luxury of worrying or overthinking and perhaps that’s just it, perhaps because I’m not usually alone the need for connections is always as prevalent?

Do we worry more as we age, or if we spend time alone? Or is it just me with an hour of quiet and I’m using it by overthinking? As I write I calm slightly. I decide to sit back and listen to the sounds, plan my visit and my things to do list. I note that we are never really alone anymore with our thoughts are we? With our phones in our pockets and social lives (Social media lives) a mere click or swipe away …I did think I would be better at this solitude thing, perhaps it only works when I am at home. Are we as people meant to be alone? I don’t think so – I think there is a basic human need for connection, to feel safe, accepted, happy, and content, in a partnership or collection of amazing friends. I continue to write as the journey progresses and all is well.

A Christmas Reading list….

  1. Christmas is bonkers busy! From finishing up that last piece of work, attending school more often than your child for an abundance of assemblies and Christmas plays, the shopping, the cleaning, the decorating of the tree, the wrapping and the cooking….absolute bonkers. No wonder you want to take a bottle of baileys and a box of after eight mints to bed with you (just me?) So why not this Christmas find a cosy spot and if you can switch off your phone (or turn off as many notifications as you can) and pick up a book and have a read. Here are 24 suggestions – some are from the good people of Facebook land (who mostly suggest grisly Christmas who dunnits – worrying!) and some are my own. Enjoy.
    1. The Christmas Reader – ed Godfrey Smith.
    A family favourite – my Grandmas reads to us from this each year, old poems and notes.
    2. A Boy called Christmas – Matt Haig
    The origin of Father Christmas – pure joy
    3. A Christmas Carol – original and the best and who doesn’t love a story that begins with “Marley was dead, to begin with”
    4. Box of Delights – John Masefield – who remembers watching this as a child? The book is better.
    5. The Twelve Days of Christmas – a correspondence – by John Julius Norwich – a comic look at a response to the 12 days of Christmas gifts. Brilliant
    6. Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris – A Christmas Store Elf and a holiday newsletter – so good
    7. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
    8. The Polar Express
    9. Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
    10. A Visit from St Nicholas “Twas the night before Christmas” you know the one
    11. The Christmas Promise – Sue Moorcroft
    12. The Father Christmas Letters – JRR Tolkien – written for his children
    13. Christmas Under the Stars – Karen Swan
    14. Merry Christmas Splat & Aliens love Panta Claus – for your little ones
    15. The Nutcracker
    16. The Snowman – Raymond Briggs
    17. Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple – begins at Christmas – a unique look at life in the 30s
    18. Mystery in White – J. Jefferson Farjeon – an abandoned train, an empty house all set for tea… the snow falling…
    19. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie
    20. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding – Agatha Christie
    21. The Mistletoe Murder – P D James
    22. The Nightmare before Christmas – a graphic novel
    23. A child’s Christmas in Wales – Dylan Thomas
    24. Frost at Christmas RD Wingfield

Why I write…


I did say in my first blog that I wasn’t sure how often I’d be writing here but I was rather dismayed to see that it’ been a year since my first one. How rubbish of me! It’s particularly nonsense that I’ve been so remiss at writing these posts, (as a writer because its what I do!) and also because I have such a long list of ideas, people to interview, subjects to cover and thoughts to convey. I have stacks of notes all waiting patiently to be crafted into a blog post. They are all hidden in my in-tray, torn out pages of magazines, scraps of lined paper, a variety of coloured post – it notes, all slowly being covered over by the next idea I’ve done nothing with. They languish like an abundant pile of autumn leaves, the pages all disappearing and merging underneath one another until you can’t quite distinguish one from another like large pile of slush. (Oh is that why “they” call it a slush pile?)

Anyway I digress, I thought I’d write about why I write. I write to tell stories first and foremost, but I also write to ease my mind. I’ve always written things down. I adore making lists (and at the top of each one is “make a list” so that can be ticked off straight away – I’m not sure that’s just me!) I like to get my thoughts, notes and to-do lists out of my head and onto paper. I’ve recently undertaken a course from The Professional Writing Academy on “Introduction to Therapeutic and Reflective Writing, where we explored the context behind this kind of writing. It led me on quite an unexpected journey. I was able to process my thoughts very clearly, articulating them, exploring them and examining them all through writing it down. You can find more details on the course here.

As part of the course we were encouraged to journal, we were given various techniques to try, such as writing for a timed period or free writing for a certain amount of pages, I chose morning pages – a way of documenting thoughts as suggested by Julia Cameron. She recommends writing three pages every morning.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning.  *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow”

This is the method I chose that seemed to work well for me. It isn’t always undertaken in the morning – it’s often too bonkers to focus in a morning after posting my daughter into her school uniform, filling with Weetabix and delivering to school.I do it when I have a quiet moment and I’ve found it really beneficial. As a freelance project manager and writer, working from home, I’m somewhat of an introvert. I often live in in my own head, and I have a tendency to over think things. I’ve found that writing things down calms the petulant child of my inner dialogue and she is placated for a while.

I believe there is a magic (yes I’m a writer and I’m sure that there is a better word to describe this – BUT it is magical to me) – there is a magic to writing things down. From my own perspective it calms me, helps me work things out, it a small retreat from work and a busy family life, and more often than not thoughts will pop up that I wasn’t really aware of or paying attention to and it’s very surprising.

This “magic” first came to me when I was dealing with a time of grief after losing a child. I was bereft and worried that I would forget this chapter, I didn’t want to forget it but nor did I want it in my head. So I wrote. I wrote every heart-breaking word, wrote it all out on the page – all of it. The weight that lifted from me and the lightness I felt was indescribable – a dark cloud was lifted and there was nothing but blue sky to move me forward.

I knew then that I wanted to share this “magic” with others and it lead me to set up “Write Mindful” and undertake training with Creative Leicestershire on their Artist in Healthcare settings programme to deliver my writing for relaxation & sessions. These workshops – I love to do. It is also so interesting to me what participants write about from the same prompt, what triggers someone to go the way they do and how positive they find it. It is not always for everyone but for me – writing therapeutically is one way for me to relax, untangle my thoughts, and take a moment of time to just be.

I’m often rushing throughout the day, my head always taking me to the next thing I must be doing rather than focusing on the moment I am in. If I’m playing with my daughter my mind races to tell me “oh don’t forget to finish that email, post that letter, do the shop order, put the washing on…” instead of focusing on her laughter when I’ve lost all my points playing pass the pigs, I find that if I have written that morning as early as I can, I’m calmed and this envelopes me through the day and I become more mindful in every moment. I also much prefer to write by hand – I like the connecting of the pen on the page and the scratch of the ink across a blank page. It slows down my racing thoughts as I notate them down. I encourage all my workshop participants to write by hand to further encourage the mindful aspects of writing for relaxation.

That is why I write.
Write. Reflect. Relax

Jottings and Jumblings

As a non driver (is that the right word?) I spend many of my working hours on long bus or train journeys and waiting around at the respective station cafes between stops. I’m actually scribbling these notes on a bus whilst on route to a workshop. Its an hour there and an hour back and although some may find this tiresome I actually quite enjoy it. These hours spent travelling give me plenty of time to plot, plan and more often than not daydream. Daydreaming I see as quite a luxury, just to empty my head, have some breathing space and catch up with myself.

I always feel calmer after writing out my thoughts and I try to inspire others to do the same through the writing for relaxation classes that I deliver,  which leads me nicely to introductions  – Hello! Katie here, writer (aspiring writer? is it  if you are not published..or is it a novelist/author if you are? I’m never sure), and creative writing tutor with a focus on  writing for well-being.

My new website is almost ready and there is a blog section so I am jotting down and jumbling about with ideas. I’m not sure how or what I want my blog to be – a focus on my work, my writing, notes on being a writing working Mum, books & reading or a mix of all of the above.

This might be a space for me to ramble, write a load of rubbish, or empty my head who knows ? Anyway this is my first blog – Hello World!